Actors: Sammo Hung, Andy On, Philip Ng
Director: Wong Ching-Po
Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Dolby, NTSC, THX, Widescreen
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Well Go USA
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Run Time: 96 minutes
The title is not the only thing about Once Upon a Time in Shanghai that feels derivative, to the point that it seems an intentional stylistic choice. Star Philip Ng gives his best Bruce Lee impression, complete with mannerism, moves and attitude. This is only further enhanced by the fact that much of the plot seems vaguely reminiscent of The Big Boss (a.k.a. Fists of Fire), the vehicle which catapulted Lee into fame. While this imitation technique could have brought the film down, the success of Ng’s performance makes it an entertaining (albeit forgettable) romp.
Ng stars as Ma Yongzhen, a simple country boy who moves to
with hopeful spirits and ambitions
to become wealthy. Though the city is run by violence and Ma has a deadly fist,
he has made a promise not to become a gangster. His mother even gave him a jade
bracelet as a reminder not to use his fists, but they end up coming to use when
he befriends the boss of Shanghai ’s
most powerful gang, Long Qi (Andy On). What begins as a rivalry becomes a
friendship after they discover themselves equally matched in a fight. Shanghai
This friendship is pure in itself, but the connection to gangsters inevitably pulls Ma into a fight that he did not ask for and promised not to enter. Having established ties with a local girl (Michelle Hu) and patriarchal neighbor (Sammo Hung), Ma worries about protecting those he cares about more than the promise to avoid violence. This culminates in a predictable final showdown in which Ma Sheds his bracelet and really shows what he is capable of.
The simplicity of the film helps to highlight the strengths, which are clearly the action sequences with Ng. It is a stylistic and entertaining action movie. Though the story has been done before, it is not difficult to get swept up in the colorful narrative. Because it is a film that looks far better onscreen than I imagine it did written in the screenplay, so that the high definition Blu-ray release enhances the spectacle. The special features include a making-of featurette, as well as an English-language audio track for the lazier and more illiterate viewers.
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10
Historical Significance: 5/10
Special Features: 4/10